Vikings-Packers: Familiar foes, polar opposites - NBC Sports

Vikings-Packers: Familiar foes, polar opposites
Not many surprises between these long-time NFC North rivals
January 4, 2013, 2:01 pm

On Saturday night, the Packers and Vikings will face off for the third time in five weeks.

They split the two regular season matchups, setting up an NFC wild-card showdown on NBC at Lambeau Field (8 p.m. ET). As long-time NFC North rivals, there aren't many surprises between the two teams.

"So much familiarity with the team that we are playing because of the number of times we have played them in the last month and a half," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said this week. "So not a whole lot that needs to be discussed as far as getting motivated to play this game."

It probably doesn't hurt the rivalry that, in many ways, the Vikings (10-6) and Packers (11-5) are polar opposites.

Minnesota relies on a miraculous workhorse running back in Adrian Peterson, who became the seventh player to rush for more than 2,000 yards last week - with almost all of the carries coming less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery.

For the Packers, everything runs through their uber talented quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who can beat you with his arm, feet and mind.

Defensively, the Vikings are a 4-3 team that is big, physical and features pass-rushing end Jared Allen.

The Packers run a 3-4 and use angles, speed and overloads up front, and a slew of talented cornerbacks to cover up the back end.

The Vikings are a ground-and-pound physical bunch on both sides of the ball that would be more fitting with dirt and mud on their uniforms, instead of playing on an artificial surface.

The Packers are fast and precise, and star receiver Greg Jennings said this week what everyone knows but is afraid to say: the Packers are better suited as a dome team, yet call the historic - and freezing - Lambeau Field home.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is the definition of low key and cool. Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted he needs to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check during the heat of battle.

The Packers raised, nurtured and ascended to great heights with Brett Favre at quarterback. The Vikings found a backdoor way, through a trade and retirement from the Jets, to have Favre don a purple jersey his final two seasons.

So much familiarity. So much difference. So much at stake on Saturday night.

"I think it'll be a great contest," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "It's an opponent we're very familiar with, and they're familiar with us. Everybody has confidence going into the playoffs. Most importantly, we'll be at home. We're excited to play these guys again."

Here are a look at the three keys for each team:

Brace for the passing game:
After a slow start, the Packers were able to move the ball through the air against Vikings even without Randall Cobb (ankle) and a full game from Jordy Nelson (knee). Both will be back on Saturday. That's only going to cause further problems for a Vikings secondary that couldn't contain Greg Jennings, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley. The inside passing game is going to be a problem for the Vikings if cornerback Antoine Winfield (hand) can't play more than the 19 he did on Sunday.

Minnesota has a distinct lack of slot corners. It's Winfield and Marcus Sherels. Jennings, who had been dealing with a groin injury/surgery most of the season, looked very much like his explosive and dangerous self in the Vikings' 37-34 victory over Green Bay on Sunday. He caught eight of the 11 passes thrown his way for 120 yards and two touchdowns - and Jennings even dropped two passes. So, needless to say, the coverage against Jennings was not very good by the Vikings. Sherels, especially, and Winfield are going to need help from the safeties. Minnesota will have to play more two deep safety coverage and hope the cornerbacks can be physical underneath to have a chance.

Go deep early: The Packers were embarrassed by Peterson's 209-yard performance on Sunday, which included more than a dozen missed tackles - and happened when the Packers were slamming the box with an extra safety. Green Bay will not let Peterson gain more than 200 yards for a third-straight matchup. It will sellout against the run even more this time, which means quarterback Christian Ponder will have to make them pay. Vikings should run playaction right off the top and not be afraid to take multiple shots down the field. They will have to be more balanced to win this game on the road this time around. Right guard Brandon Fusco needs to be better this time around in all areas of his game. Tackle B.J. Raji was dominant and has the ability to disrupt the run and the pass if he's not blocked better in this game.

Take advantage of the right tackle: The Packers were so weak at right tackle with undrafted rookie Don Barclay on Sunday that they might have to think about moving left guard T.J. Lang back out to right tackle on Saturday. Whoever is there, that's a big weakness for the Packers that the Vikings have to exploit with end Brian Robison and tackle/end Everson Griffen. Expect the Packers to provide more help on that side in this game, which should give right end Jared Allen more room to maneuver. He's obviously beat up, but the Vikings need him to dominate in this game to advance.

Be more disciplined against the run:
On Sunday, the Packers had three problems in the run game. Inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones hit less than half the time at properly and quickly hitting in the gaps against the Vikings' inside zone scheme. When they played downhill, Peterson had trouble. When they were late, the offensive linemen were able to combo block to the second level and Peterson was off to the races. That can't happen again. There were also several problems with players setting the edge properly, which widened Peterson's cutback lanes and also allowed him to escape outside. And, finally, the tackling was shoddy. It must be cleaned up or they'll never get off the field.

Go fast: In both of the previous games against the Vikings, the Packers' offense has started on the slow side. On Sunday they were down 13-0 and 20-7. The Packers need to be the aggressor offensively and they need to do that by taking their no-huddle offense out of mothballs. It has been effective in the past, and will help Rodgers and the passing game get into a better rhythm quickly. It will also help keep the Vikings' pass rush from gaining much traction.

Get it and go: The pairing of Cobb and Jennings once again should give the Packers' offense ample weapons to get back to their short, quick passing game. It has been nonexistent at times and it's really hurting the offense. There have been too many deep routes that take too long to develop, especially when Rodgers is playing behind a line that has average players at both tackle spots, and center. If the Packers quicken the pace with the no huddle, and shorter routes, that will keep Rodgers from falling into his usual trap of holding onto the ball too long. The Packers have multiple dynamic weapons now that everyone is healthy. Rodgers should let them do the work by getting rid of the ball quickly.

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